The Black Mennonite Chapter 13 by Daniel Whyte III with Meriqua Whyte

Chapter 13

Ant Maude Lapp


Bishop Stoltzfus decided to pay Ant Maude Lapp a visit. She was one person he could never quite figure out. She, on the other hand, seemingly without much effort figured him out. She had ‘worldly possessions’ in her house that he did not care much for. He failed miserably at trying to convince her to get rid of them, and on top of that, he was not inclined to command her to leave the community. She possessed an inner strength that he knew if he challenged he would come out on the losing end.

“Oh, I’m not worldly. In fact, I believe I’m too old-fashioned,” Ant Maude said to Bishop Stoltzfus as they conversed. “My question is: why would Gott give you a gift and not want you to use it for His glory?  Gott’s Word says when men light a candle they place that candle on top of the table so it can be a light for all. Place your gift on top of the table, so to speak, and let it be a blessing to someone.”

Ant Maude had made this statement to Bishop Stoltzfus after he questioned some of the wooden ornaments her nephew had carved for her when she lived in Ireland. Ant Maude had them displayed in a glass cabinet her nephew had also made for her. That cabinet was the first of its kind in their small Mennonite community located in Reading, Pennsylvania. Many of the women, the older wives in particular, spoke in whispers out of their husbands’ hearing, how they would love to have such a cabinet in their home. Some of the younger wives were bold enough to suggest such a thing to their husbands. Word got back to Bishop Stoltzfus and he decided to handle the situation.

“Ant Maude, you’re bringing damnation into our untainted community. Not only that: you’re causing division among us. You have to get rid of those things,” Bishop Stoltzfus said forcefully. “That’s worldly possession. We stay on the straight and narrow road here; that’s what Gott would have us to do. He doesn’t want us to have possession of anything that will distract us from serving Him or that will occupy our minds.”

“Over my dead body,”Ant Maude said matter-of-factly and without blinking an eye. “And I will not be leaving this community either. My nephew has a gift and I have encouraged him to use it to bring cheer to others. It’s brought cheer to me. Every time I look at his handy-work, I think about our great Gott and Creator. Anything that causes me to think about Gott is worth keeping, wouldn’t you say?” 

Bishop Stoltzfus could not argue with that point. He turned red at what was an embarrassing moment for him as he was used to having the last words in any disagreement.

Jacob and Rebecca, who had accompanied their father to visit Ant Maude, were shocked with a respectful awe that she would stand up to their father. If their memory served them right, no one had ever done that—at least not in their presence.

“Now, Bishop, you’re a man of the Bible. Remember the servant who did not use his talent and went and hid it, what did the master do? If my memory serves me right, I believe the master took the talent from him and gave it to the one who was exercising his talent,” Ant Maude continued. “I always encourage people to use their gifts and talents to their fullest lest they be taken away.”

Bishop Stoltzfus stood stiffly as if deciding what next to do. He eventually bid Ant Maude a curt good evening.

As soon as they got home, Jacob and Rebecca secretly shared with their mother the conversation between their father and Ant Maude. “I have to visit Ant Maude without Daed present and show her my carvings,” Jacob quietly shared with his mother. “She’ll know what I can do with them.”

 On the appointed day for him to take the carvings to show Ant Maude, Mamm Stoltzfus carefully wrapped her son’s carvings in one of her aprons.

Ant Maude was very pleased with his work of art. “You leave them here with me. I’ll talk to your father about it,” she assured Jacob.

No one, including Mamm Stoltzfus, knew what Ant Maude said to Bishop Stoltzfus, but Jacob no longer carved in secret; he now spent many of his after-school hours at Ant Maude’s, carving to his heart’s content. He left his carved works at her house for safekeeping. Under Ant Maude’s coaching, Jacob turned his gift into a profitable business. He generated a steady influx of money and by the time he got through his teenage years and at the end of his courting he had saved up more than enough money so after he and Eva got married six years later he was able to custom-build their dream house with plans for expansion, and with it having some of the modern conveniences such as an indoor water pump, a shower area and flushing toilet. He placed a few of his carvings on the wall and on a mantelpiece to his father’s chagrin. Bishop Stoltzfus hardly ever visited their home because of that,, and whenever he did he would stare with disgust at the carvings. He only entered their home whenever his wife was with him, and he made sure those visits were short and purposeful. Whenever he was by himself he stood at the door or spoke from his buggy.

Being that money was not an issue and would not be an issue going forward, Jacob could have stopped working on the farm his father had passed on to him but was being run fulltime by one of the men so his father could keep his focus on his duties as Bishop, but he decided to stay on and be a help and blessing to his father. 

“I can’t wait for our folks to come around and change with the times, especially Daed. He’s so bent on doing things like ‘we’ve always done it’,” Jacob said to his mother on one of her trips to visit with them. “Doing things how we have always done it dries up after a while and leaves one stagnant.”

“Deep down he’s pleased with you, but he’ll never tell you. He has a hard time showing any emotion since in his eyes that makes him come across as soft and not masculine,” Mamm Stoltzfus told her son. “He’s stuck on the church ordnungs oftentimes to his own hurt, and sometimes, sadly, to the hurt of others. But I want you to know I am very proud of you and am not afraid to tell you so.”